I’m certain Larry McMurtry readers are intimately familiar with McMurtry’s first novel, Horseman, Pass By. If your memory is a little faded, I’ll remind you that the novel was adapted into the award winning film, Hud. This film won Academy Awards for Melvyn Douglas and for Patricia Neal. It was also famous for denying Paul Newman in one of the actor’s best cinematic roles. If you poke around the other awards won that year, Hud was almost unbeatable.
But two interesting and significant racial events occurred with the award winning films of 1963. First, as almost everyone knows, Paul Newman lost the Oscar to Sidney Poitier, for Lilies of the Field. Back in those days Hud and Lilies of the Field tended to play in movie theaters as a double bill. We had it good then. Poitier was smiling and laughing and helping a group of nuns in Lilies whereas Newman was one of the quintessential cold-blooded bastards in all of the movies. But who remembers the other significant racial event which occurred that year in the movies?
It’s possibly a small thing and I would say even now that it was a smart move since the movie didn’t need further complication. If you read McMurtry’s book and saw the movie, you might have noticed that Alma Brown (Patricia Neal) was the Bannon’s white housekeeper but in the book her name was Halmea and she was African-American. I expect the rape scene was emotionally charged enough without bringing up the race issue. As I contend, artistically it was probably a smart move. It’s all fiction, anyway.
But now, over fifty years later we have another event in the movies and even after all the intervening years, the right-wing racists are still concerned about the race of fictional characters. This time it is Little Orphan Annie and by casting a black girl in the title role, the right-wing-nuts are having apoplexy. So Annie now joins Santa Claus and Jesus as made-up characters who right-wing bigots insist were white.